The Commonwealth Cup Runneth Over

by | Feb 14, 2022 | MUSIC

Cannabis seed company Stable Genetix brings world-class breeding and competitive craft growing to central Virginia.

A towering pine sprouts golden pistils that ripple across its conical rise into the blue California sky. The tree widens and contracts, tendrils of yellow and orange curling from the deep green foliage that cradles them. Hippogator is sure that what he’s seeing is, in fact, a giant gilded cola; the fully flowering top of a cannabis plant. A dank bud. 

A breeze tumbles in and the flower bursts. Thousands of Monarch butterflies tingle in the air like gold dust swirling around a jar of spring water before settling back into the branches.  Hippogator watches for hours from the bush where he’s been sleeping, the Great Bud forming and scattering and forming again. 

Visions present themselves in strange ways. 

Nearly thirty years later in present-day Virginia, Hippogator is breeding that vision. Founding board member of the freshly organized Virginia Commonwealth Cup, organizer of the ever-popular Thursday grower meetups at Sneed’s Nursery, and proprietor of Stable Genetix — a budding cannabis seed company — Hippogator has spent his time since legalization growing cannabis and producing thousands of seeds, nearly all of which he’s given away. But he didn’t exactly wait for a vision — or permission — to get started. 

“I would have been 14, I believe. And my mother had just purchased a house on a lake,” he said. “Her house was right next to the railroad tracks. I had a bunch of friends in the neighborhood there, and we would all meet up and try to grow pot on all the creeks that would run under the railroad tracks. And normally they’d grow a foot or two tall and then a big rainstorm would knock it out. Or the deer would eat it. I remember we used to try to put the pot in a rope and pulley system, and we’d be out there with fishing poles trying to rope branches, and then we’d raise the pot up in the air so the deer wouldn’t get it. We tried all kinds of ways. It was work, but it was fun.” 

Hippogator never successfully harvested those early grows, but he carried what he learned from them when he fled to the west coast after a mob of two hundred rabid Oregon Hillians attacked his band outside their practice space because some of the musicians were Black [Note for new arrivals to Richmond: Oregon Hill was a much more dangerous neighborhood for marginalized groups and VCU students 25 years ago than it is today -ed]. For a while he camped in state parks, traveling barefoot to music festivals, flirting with starvation and often close to death. It was there that he would eventually be given seeds that contained something his vision of the pine taught him to coax out. 

“I remember getting my first good pot seeds from this girl Robin in Santa Cruz,” he said. “I lived like two blocks from the wharf, where if I stood on my tippy-toes I could hear the sea lions and see the wharf. Apparently James Dean lived there, and his family of raccoons still lived under the house. He had a pet racoon. But it’s this little 20×20 shack right down the street from the boardwalk.” 

Hippogator started growing in earnest in that shack, and ultimately brought those seeds back to Richmond, where he returned after a devastating fight with alcoholism that left him, once again, homeless on a strange coast. With his dad facing quintuple bypass surgery and nothing left of his life in California, he hopped a flight home. 

In the years that followed, Hippogator quit drinking and living in bushes and slums. He fell in love and got married. He grew cannabis intermittently, but stopped when his wife got pregnant. And then the legalization bill passed. 

“So I went down to Lucky Roots and bought equipment again. Because during the conversion of my basement into a playroom, I ditched everything,” he said. “So I bought commercial grade equipment and started growing in preparation for July First. I’m thinking, nobody’s going to have seeds. I want to have seeds. So I got some seeds out and started growing pot again.”

Hippogator had previously made his living buying distressed housing and fixing it up to resell at a profit. But with the pandemic hitting, he had sold all of his properties. Now he had a lot of time on his hands. “But then I started growing pot with my time, and it became like a full time job,” he explained. “I spent 10 hours a day on it.”

Believe it or not, cannabis cultivation is something of a family tradition for Hippogator. “My dad has also always grown pot, every now and then,” he said. “Later on in life I found out he was the — God, am I really going to say this? He was the sanitation, contamination, and documentation [manager] for Altria. It’s going to sound unbelievable, but he wrote the first Standard Operating Procedure for growing pot. Or at least for maintaining a clean environment for the machines. Because that’s what he was — he was a machinist, the Chief Mechanical Engineer at Phillip Morris.”

In decades past, when the average person in the United States was having to access cannabis through illegal means, Hippogator’s father was working within the system to help the US government learn more about cannabis cultivation. “He shipped laboratory equipment from England to South America so the government could do their research in the 80s on cannabis,” said Hippogator. “Some of the samples got contaminated, and that’s where the technician comes in. All the G13 stories? My dad wrote the paper that says, ‘This is contaminated.’ Whether he grew my seeds or had some seeds, he’s always grown weed in a trash can in the garage.” 

Whether his genetics are descendants of the legendary, government-funded G13 strain is something we likely won’t ever know for sure. But the Moby Dick cultivar Hippogator bred by crossing the seeds in question with a particularly frosty phenotype of White Widow is a beautifully complex and piney sativa with notes of pepper, citrus, cherry, eucalyptus, and an undercurrent of oaky vanilla cola that smooths out the brightness of its terpene profile. Its effects are remarkably euphoric, creative, and relaxed – a potent giggle bush. 

Seedlings leap from the soil as though born to devour sunlight, and boast enormous yields of long, tightly spiraled buds that are silver with resin. Outdoor growers will take down several pounds from a single plant. Indoor growers will find the experience to be more like fighting to control vigorous growth than nurturing a delicate flower. It’s likely gracing grow tents in hundreds of Virginia homes right now. For Hippogator, that’s the whole point. 

“I’m in it to provide. One of my mission statements says; To curate genetics and elevate Virginia to be able to compete on the world stage,” he said. “We have so many resources here. With Altria and the technology and scientists they have, and then with the local craft growers. If we could merge the science with the love and care of the plant, and the spiritual aspect of it, we can grow better weed than Israel. We can grow better weed than Spain, Humboldt, Amsterdam. Virginia has the potential to grow the best weed in the world. So many good breeders have come from Virginia and moved away because our laws suck. And they moved to places like Colorado or California. It’d be really cool if they started coming home.” 

To that end, he’s teaming up with a host of other cannabis community leaders to plan the inaugural Virginia Commonwealth Cup for the summer of 2022, described on their website as “A day filled with 100+ Vendors, live music, Multiple Contests, Cannabis Educational Classes, and Live Demonstrations, ending with the crowning of the Definitive Best Flower in Virginia.” Hippogtor calls it “a chance to gather and celebrate the flower. Like a blue ribbon for the best pig, or a day of talking about watermelons next to 1000-pound watermelons. The showcase of agricultural excellence.”

“Our farm bureau is heavily entrenched in Virginia politics,” he continues.  “As Virginians we have the opportunity to restore so many small towns with this industry. At first it was an idea; how can we celebrate as a whole? This is my city. I live in the capital. I am from here. And when I say, ‘Y’all come back now, ya hear?’, it’s genuine. My vision for the Cup is to elevate Virginia to a world class destination for cannabis. Competition-quality brewing, growing, creativity, science, arts, agriculture, tourism. Fuck yeah.”

For Hippogator, this is ultimately all about pride in his home state. “I am proud to be a Virginian,”he said. “When I think of my state’s role in uniting the nation, and specifically the plant’s potential for the healing of the nations — not just ours, but the rock we all ride through the cosmos — I get excited.” 

There are more than a few legislative hurdles for entrepreneurs like Hippogator, who dream of one day establishing not just a business, but an interconnected industry of craft growers in a symbiotic relationship with each other, having the goal of cultivating – and sharing – truly world-class cannabis. Right now, exorbitant license and application fees all but require corporate funding, favoring established national corporations over Virginia startups. But that’s not stopping Hippogator — or hundreds of other cultivators like him — from creating the community in which they want to live, spurred by the conviction that Virginia’s legal cannabis won’t be grown in an industrial factory. 

“I make this comment sometimes when I see beautiful flowers on Instagram, that I can see the grower’s love emanating from the flower. And it’s true. You can tell. Especially when you see that it’s sticky and it’s crystal and it sparkles, and there’s still a sugar leaf intact, and you know it’s never been through a rolling, chopping, grinding trimming machine,” he said. “Part of me really believes that the secret ingredient to what I consider Kind Bud is kindness, and love for the plant. There’s a communion that happens when you interact with the plant. It may be a plant, and a lot of people don’t believe they’re [conscious], but it’s all alive. We’re all a part of the same thing.”

As for the long-term, Hippogator hopes to one day turn Stable Genetix into a boutique seed company that generates enough profit to fund grows for others, especially folks in the Black communities which have been disproportionately targeted by the enforcement of prohibition and racist mobs alike. And after that? A nonprofit to help restore endangered butterfly species — like the Monarchs that, decades ago, formed the first seeds of the vision he’s now bringing to flower. 

Photos courtesy of Stable Genetix

S. Preston Duncan

S. Preston Duncan

S. Preston Duncan is a poet, death doula, BBQist, and leatherworker in Richmond's East End. He is the sole proprietor of Dreamwell Studio, a small leathercraft business specializing in hand-carved and pyrographed journals and grow journals. Author of the short poetry collection, The Sound in This Time of Being (BIG WRK, 2020), his writing has appeared in [PANK], Wrongdoing, Witches Magazine, and other fine publications. He has been contributing to RVA Magazine with remarkable inconsistency since 2009.

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